Lawsuit Alleges Westfield Mayor Knapik Ordered Public Employees To Remove Political Yard Signs

March 21, 2012 3:18 pm

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SPRINGFIELD — A lawsuit filed today in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts Western Division alleges Westfield Mayor Daniel Knapik ordered public employees to remove signs supporting other politicians from the yard of a private citizen who agreed to host the signs. The suit stems from November 7, 2011, when city employees removed candidates’ signs from the property of David Costa, one day before Westfield voters decided municipal races by fewer than 30 votes.

Public records requests have revealed that city employees removed the campaign signs–which met requirements for size, placement, and distance from the nearest polling place–within an hour and a half of two calls placed by Westfield Mayor David Knapik to the manager of the Westfield Department of Public Works. Signs for other candidates had already been in place in the same location for as long as a month prior to November 7, and city employees did not remove similarly displayed signs from other nearby properties.

“This action was no accident, and it was no routine enforcement of Westfield’s signage laws. That the Mayor of Westfield had instructed the public employees to remove the signs, including signs endorsing the candidacy of a city councilor with whom the Mayor had a longstanding, contentious relationship, is the essence of the complaint,” explained ACLU of Massachusetts cooperating attorney Luke Ryan, of Sasson, Turnbull, Ryan & Hoose.

The plaintiffs in this civil-rights action are two politicians whose campaign signs were removed–David Flaherty, a candidate for re-election for an at-large seat on the Westfield City Council, and Jane Wensley, Ward 3 representative for the Municipal Light Board–as well as the private citizen, David Costa, who exercised his free-speech rights by agreeing to display the signs. The plaintiffs now seek declaratory and injunctive relief to redress the past deprivation, and to prevent future deprivations, of rights secured to them by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. They also seek to recover attorney fees and other costs.

“Citizens have a right to post lawn signs. The ACLU vindicated that right in a case against Longmeadow in federal district court in Springfield in 1988. The breach of that right by a high-ranking public official should not go unchallenged,” said Bill Newman, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Western Massachusetts Legal Office. “This breach cannot go unchallenged.”

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